With his a hood wrapped tightly around his face and feather earrings dangling, Joe Mulherin is calm during soundcheck. Better known as nothing,nowhere., the 26-year-old artist stands alone in the center of an empty venue in London, a soft neon glow illuminating his face as he shows off the design on a new sweatshirt he got in Camden: a skeleton riding a motorcycle, a perfect homage to his logo, which has been tattooed on countless fans. “Isn’t this dude sick? It’s like he’s riding his hog into hell or something,” Mulherin laughs. As we chat about the ins and outs of the tumultuous SoundCloud scene and talk his home state of Vermont, he eats a bowl of strawberries and drinks kombucha in preparation for his performance.
Once he takes the stage, Mulherin's reserved demeanor is gone, commanding the crowd as he throws his body around and screaming with every fiber in his body. Mosh pits ensue, and a few brave fans trying their luck at crowd surfing; the packed venue knows every word as he performs cuts from the critically acclaimed project reaper and his latest, ruiner, which he made in just two weeks with close friend, producer, and frequent collaborator JayVee. The new record is a stimulating blend of singing, hip-hop, and live instrumentation, all fused together with emo and alternative stylings.
After the show, Mulherin jokes with his childhood friends who also double as his touring musicians. Whether or not he agrees, this performance was monumental; last March, Mulherin damaged his vocal chords and had to call off half of his tour. “I couldn’t talk, let alone sing,” he explains. Luckily, with ruiner came another summer headlining tour — and then, a shocking tweet: “our tour is cancelled. i've been battling severe anxiety and depression and decided the best option is to leave for a while and seek professional help.”
Speaking about the journey he endured this past few months, it seems as if Mulherin's back and more powerful than ever. He sounds relieved while reflecting on his whirlwind summer — and more than anything else, he’s happy to be in the present.
After your summer tour was cancelled, no one heard from you for months. What happened, and what has your experience with your mental health been like throughout your life?
Panic attacks and anxiety have been something I've struggled with since I was young. As I got older, I developed depression as a result of those panic attacks. It's been an obstacle I've had to overcome my entire life, but this summer, it reached a point where there wasn't ignoring it anymore. It wasn't sustainable at all — completely debilitating. I don't necessarily know what triggered it, but randomly I had one of the worst panic attacks I've ever had in my entire life. Something flipped inside of me. There are a bunch of terrible side effects that come with that, both mentally and physically. I lost 10 to 15 pounds. I wasn't getting out of bed. I couldn't leave the house. I couldn't go to the grocery store. I couldn't do anything besides lie in bed and have a panic attack every single day.
The night before we left for tour, we were about to pick up the bus. At midnight, literally hours before we were about to leave, I had a breakdown and told my tour manager there was absolutely no way I can do this tour — that would it be dangerous for me to do it. I needed to step away for a while and get better. That was early June, and here we are now in October. It was such a trying time for me this past summer, and it's nice to be able to sit here now and look at the tornado that I was in. I feel like I'm not in that tornado anymore.
What were you doing in that time when you were getting better?
I definitely wasn't online [Laughs]. I just disconnected. For the first couple of months, I was really struggling to stay afloat. Every morning, I'd wake up and be disappointed that I woke up. I knew something was fundamentally wrong — something had changed in me, and it was difficult for me to grasp what was actually happening to me when I was in that state.
I've always had an interest in Buddhism and Taoism — Eastern culture in general, and even Native American culture. One thing that's synonymous throughout all of those cultures is meditation, which is something I've done for years now, but my practices have reached new heights. It's the first thing I do when I wake up, the last thing I do before I go to bed, and I even do it in the middle of the day. I've started going to therapy and seeing a psychiatrist. I went to Buddhist temples in the US and sat in contemplation with Thai monks. I’ve been reading a lot, too — I probably read the Tao Te Ching by Laozi, like, ten times in the past two months. I'm really grateful to have access to things like meditation in mindfulness, because my life has been improving exponentially since I've taken it more seriously.
Instead of announcing you were back, you dropped the single “dread.” What can you say about that track, and what made you decide to drop it in that manner?
One of the worst parts about this whole experience was that I lost all interest in everything. As soon as I lost interest in music, I knew that something was really wrong. I didn’t touch my guitar, didn't make a beat, didn’t record anything all summer. It reached a breaking point where one day I woke up and I just sat down in my chair where I make music. I remember that particular day had been really hard. I had a breakdown — my anxiety was terrible. Yet in the blink of an eye, I was writing, and it started pouring out of me.
It was an out-of-body experience — the first time that summer I could truly say I was genuinely happy. After I recorded the chorus, I sat in the chair and listened to it for hours. It was such a therapeutic experience for me to make that song and tell that story. I've always been honest in my music and it's been my expressive outlet, so instead of posting a long description about the track, I figured I'd tell my story through the song.
You went from making music in a closet to performing in arenas. What was that shift like?
It's been an emotional journey, and there's been so many hurdles to overcome. I always knew I had the capacity to do something great. I’ve always believed that I've had my own personal legend that I've had to fulfill. In Buddhism, your Dharma is your gift that you can give to the world — your unique set of skills and talents. Music and songwriting is my Dharma. Sometimes it's hard for me to accept the notoriety aspect of it, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. This experience has made me a stronger person, and I know that what I'm doing is at least helping a few kids here and there. That's more than I can ask for, so the pain and the change is worth it in the end.
On ruiner's “better,” you say “Growing up, I had a dream in my mind / Then it came true, now it got me losing my mind.” Do you think that success impacted your mental health as nothing,nowhere. got more popular?
In some ways it's definitely changed my perspective, and most people would experience something similar. It all just happened so fast, you know what I mean? When a lot of us came into the SoundCloud scene, I don't think any of us expected it to get as big as it did. I was hoping I could make a career out of it, but it all just exploded. Everything happened in a year, as nothing,nowhere. got bigger and bigger it's something I've had to come to terms with. No one wants to face failure, but success can be equally as dangerous.
In terms of genres, how would you describe nothing,nowhere.?
Experimental music. I don't want to be put in a specific genre, and I don't think anyone who makes similar music wants to be called an emo rapper. It's just cringey — it puts you in a box and feels like a gimmick. I just don't want people to be surprised if I decide to release a thrash metal album, or like, a reggaeton album [Laughs]. I'm going to keep getting more experimental, and I'm looking forward to it. I don't want there to be any surprises.
You're vegan straight edge, and you also have a nature friendly side project under the name Lil Tofu. What's your experience been like?
I’ve been straight edge since I was 14. [Laughs] I tried smoking weed, and I wasn't into it. Using substances is something I've never been interested in, and I've had people close to me that have been really affected by it. I always shied away from using drugs and alcohol. And there's nothing wrong with that — plenty of people live perfectly normal lives and enjoy having a drink and doing whatever — but it's just not my thing.
I've been vegan for about 7 years. It started from watching a lecture by an animal rights activist. I don't really know why I started watching it — it was one of those late-night YouTube things. I remember struggling with the concept of morality, and how I want to treat my planetary companions. I remember having a moral debate in my head for about a week until I just decided I wasn't going to participate in anything that cause suffering to sentient beings. I read about the environmental implications and the health benefits, and it was a one-stop shop for me. I don't judge people for a living differently than the way I do — it's just my own lifestyle, and I almost forgot that it is because I’ve been that way for so long now.
Earlier this year you mentioned that you were working on a lot of music. What are you working on now?
I had plans to release some stuff this summer, but obviously I pumped the brakes on that. I've been in go-mode for so long that now is a good time for me to step back a little bit and really take my time on a project. It's going to be a process. Me and JayVee recorded ruiner in two weeks, and I'll take my time with the next project. I want it to be perfect. For me, too, it's more healthy to go back to the basics and make music like I did when I was younger — to not have certain expectations or force it.
With these upcoming European and US tours, what are you most looking forward to now?
[Laughs] From practicing mindfulness everyday and doing meditation, it's funny to hear that question now. The future is bright, and I'm looking forward to talking to kids and hearing people’s stories. But I'm just thinking about this exact moment, and I think that's what I'm going to continue to do. I’m in the present, and I want to keep it that way.